Multitasking is a word that has taken on new life in the last 20 years with the advent of computers and smart phones that run multiple programs at once. When I first started in ministry in 1993, the church office computer was still running MS-DOS for our word processing with floppy disks (talk about feeling old). While I would never want to go back to those days, I remember that it took a little while to set my word processing up and get started. The idea that I would switch to another program before I was finished was crazy. The only thing that interrupted me was the telephone.
This morning as I write this, I am working on a PC that has 5 open programs running at the same time while my iPhone is on speakerphone attending a Board of Trustees meeting for Magnolia Manor. My iPhone alert just went off as I write telling me not to forget to call a church member when I finish. I am literally doing 5 things at the same time. (Whether I am effective at those things is up for debate).
Recently, I read an article on Forbes.com (here) that discussed the pros and cons of multitasking vs. unitasking. The truth is we are more focused and productive when we are focused on one thing at a time…but that is not the world we live in. We all struggle to slow down and focus on the things that matter.
In his book, Jewish Renewal, Rabbi Michael Lerner says that anyone who sets out to engage in a disciplined practice of Sabbath can expect a rough ride for a couple of years at least. This is because Sabbath involves pleasure, rest, freedom and slowness, none of which comes naturally to us with in our culture with our technology. Most of us are so sold on speed, so invested in productivity, so convinced that multitasking is the way of life that stopping for one whole day can feel at first like a kind of death.
Personally, when I work I am glad to be able to multitask. The problem is this multitasking mentality is hard to break out of on my days of Sabbath. I find myself on the golf course or with my family or alone in reflection on my day off replying to text messages and emails. I convince myself “just one text/email more and I will be finished” or “this one is very important”.
What would my Sabbath look like if I could totally unplug? What would people think if they couldn’t get in touch with me as fast as they think they should? What happens if it takes me three hours to return a text message? All of these worries wage war against the practice of Sabbath.
After reflection, I discovered that what I am doing is multitasking my Sabbath. I really should be unitasking my Sabbath to experience it as God commands. How can I really experience God, pleasure, rest, freedom and slowness when I multitask Sabbath?
It may be time for me to die to some of the technological crutches that tie me to my need for productivity. It may be time to rededicate myself to Sabbath.